COVID-19 decimating high-profile prisoners

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    ‘It is easy to believe that the deaths of these 9 inmates will be nebulous and hazy, since only Bantag has a version of what really happened, and there exists the force majeure alibi called COVID-19 pandemic.’

    JUSTICE Secretary Menardo Guevarra is truly alarmed. Reports said that these past few days, at least nine high-profile (read: drugs lords) criminals, prisoners or persons deprived of liberty have died of the dreaded COVID-19 inside the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa City.

    Yesterday, Secretary Guevarra summoned to his office Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) Director General Gerald Bantag on Monday, July 20, to report on the alleged deaths of the prisoners.

    Media reports said that inmate Jaybee Nino Sebastian, the principal witness against detained Sen. Leila de Lima in one of her illegal drugs cases pending with the Muntinlupa City regional trial court, died last Saturday and his body was allegedly cremated in a Cavite crematorium hours after his death. Cause of his death was reportedly due to acute myocardial infarction related to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19.

    Sebastian, who is convicted of kidnapping-for-ransom and carjacking in 2009, is also one of De Lima’s co-accused in one of the criminal cases. Guevarra could not confirm Sebastian’s death and reports were just based on sources that said he was cremated in Dasmariñas, Cavite. Only a photograph of a regular plastic bag containing ashes of Sebastian’s presumptive remains was available to document this turn of events. There was no autopsy report but if the NBP is following the law, they should at least come up with a death certificate, duly authenticated by a physician.

    Eight other persons reportedly died of the disease inside the Bilibid. Of the eight, six are Chinese while the two others are Filipino drug lords. Three of the eight were part of the “Bilibid 19” who were previously transferred to the National Bureau of Investigation after then Justice Secretary Leila de Lima discovered that a number of inmates have been living luxurious lifestyles while imprisoned. Reports said one of two Filipino drug lords died on May 23 while the other died in the first week of June. Media sources said three of the Chinese nationals were cremated at a crematorium in Dasmariñas, Cavite while one was cremated in North Cemetery, Manila.

    BuCor officials such as spokesman Col. Gabriel Chaclag said they could not report the names and other details about the COVID-19 deaths of the inmates because of the Data Privacy Act. Perhaps only his boss, Director General Gerald Bantag, could shed light on these deaths in his report to his superior, Secretary Guevarra.

    The DOJ reported on July 15 that BuCor has not had any new case of COVID-19 infection in all its penal farms and colonies since July 1. It said that since March when BuCor’s monitoring started, there were 343 confirmed cases, 18 deaths, and 325 recoveries.

    It is easy to believe that the deaths of these 9 inmates will be nebulous and hazy, since only Bantag has a version of what really happened, and there exists the force majeure alibi called COVID-19 pandemic.

    And Bantag, going by his long, turbulent experience as jail warden in Parañaque and in other cities in Metro Manila, is no stranger to grenade explosions, bomb blast deaths, and other unusual occurrences.

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